Vikings 9 best options to replace Kirk Cousins, from Justin Fields & Trey Lance to J.J. McCarthy

The Vikings entered the 2024 NFL offseason hopeful they would keep quarterback Kirk Cousins, but they couldn’t do it.

Cousins agreed to a four-year, $180 million deal with the Falcons shortly after the NFL’s “legal tampering” window opened Monday.

Atlanta was desperate for help at quarterback after narrowly missing out on an NFC South title in 2023 despite starting Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, so seeing the Falcons target Cousins was no surprise. Landing him will make the Falcons a playoff contender under new coach Raheem Morris.

As for the Vikings, they will head back to the drawing board as they examine what Plan B looks like at quarterback.

It doesn’t seem likely that Minnesota will trust any quarterbacks currently on its roster to be its starter in 2024. Nick Mullens struggled with turnovers in relief of Cousins and Joshua Dobbs last season, while rookie Jaren Hall didn’t make it through either of his two starts due to an injury and ineffective play.

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Dobbs could return to the Vikings, but it seems more likely that the team will target more stable stopgap starters in free agency. They could also pursue a true quarterback of the future via trade or in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Below is a breakdown of Minnesota’s best and most realistic quarterback options, starting with an intriguing young starter who could be a worthwhile trade acquisition.

MORE: Why Kirk Cousins left the Vikings for the Falcons, explained

Justin Fields trade

Fields was expected to be one of the first quarterback dominoes to fall during the 2024 NFL offseason. Instead, he remains with the Bears as Chicago tries to drum up a trade market for the fourth-year quarterback.

The Vikings should be interested in Fields. The 6-3, 228-pound quarterback has immense physical talent and is one of the best running quarterbacks in the league when healthy. He totaled 1,143 rushing yards in 2022 and could add a similar type of explosiveness to Minnesota’s offense, which lacks a true workhorse running back.

Fields’ passing ability leaves a bit more to be desired. He isn’t very accurate and takes a lot of sacks for a mobile quarterback (135 in 40 career starts).

Still, Fields continues to improve each season and is coming off a campaign during which he completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 2,562 yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, setting career bests in all four categories except TDs (17 in 2022).

If Kevin O’Connell believes he can develop Fields better than the Bears staff, then the Vikings could pursue the 25-year-old quarterback. That may get complicated given that Chicago is a divisional rival, but Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made big-time trades with the Lions involving draft picks and T.J. Hockenson.

The Vikings won’t be afraid to make a deal for Fields given that history, and while the Bears may prefer to ship him elsewhere, they may not be operating from a position of power given the limited landing spots for their former first-round pick.

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Trey Lance trade

Another swing-for-the-fences move the Vikings could consider is trading for Trey Lance. Like Fields, he was a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but unlike Fields, he hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself yet.

Lance spent his first NFL season backing up Jimmy Garoppolo before being set to take over as the 49ers starter in 2022. Unfortunately, he broke his leg in Week 2 against the Seahawks and missed the rest of the season.

While Lance was hurt, Brock Purdy emerged as a solid starter for the 49ers. After that, Lance became expendable as he slipped behind Sam Darnold on the 49ers depth chart during the 2023 offseason and was offloaded to the Cowboys for a fourth-round pick.

That may not make Lance seem like an intriguing pickup, but the 23-year-old is still young and may just need time to develop. After all, he started just one season at FCS North Dakota State before making the jump to the NFL, so he was always going to be raw.

Lance is also from Minnesota, so perhaps a homecoming could help spark him and make him more comfortable. Either way, the cost of getting Lance likely won’t be more than the fourth-round selection that the Cowboys surrendered to get him before the 2023 season, making him a potential bargain.

Lance’s combination of arm strength and mobility makes him the ideal candidate to be molded by O’Connell’s staff into a dynamic, playmaking quarterback. Don’t rule him out just because he has largely been out of sight, out of mind for the past few seasons.

MORE: What did the 49ers trade to get Trey Lance?

Best free agent QBs available

The Vikings won’t find another quarterback of Cousins’ ilk on the free-agent market, but there are plenty of experienced starters available. Minnesota may look to sign one as a stopgap starter to ensure they at least have one proven passer on the roster ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Jacoby Brissett

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Jacoby Brissett

Brissett doesn’t have a great career record as a starter (18-30), but his numbers — 61.3 completion percentage, 10,574 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions — look like those of a low-end starter.

Brissett’s last season as a starter, 2022 with the Browns, was his best. He outplayed Deshaun Watson and posted a career-best 88.9 passer rating. That’s nothing amazing, but that production would be enough to keep the Vikings competitive in many games, especially with Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison at Brissett’s disposal.

O’Connell helped Cousins grow as a passer, too, so there’s no reason he couldn’t do the same with Brissett. He’s just 31, so he still has time to up his play and establish himself as a solid starter in the second act of his NFL career.

Ryan Tannehill

Tannehill may be past his prime as he turns 36 in July, but the Vikings may be willing to overlook his age to add experience to their team.

Tannehill has an 81-70 record in 151 career starts. He guided the Titans to the AFC’s No. 1 seed as recently as 2022, and he has the chops to be a game manager who can minimize mistakes.

O’Connell would have to work around Tannehill’s arm strength limitations, but at the very least, the former Titan would provide decent depth and be a good mentor behind a high-end draft pick. Among the free agents remaining, none have more experience than the 2019 Pro Bowler.

Sam Darnold

Darnold isn’t a name likely to excite Vikings fans, but Minnesota might target him, per The Athletic’s Dianna Russini.

Darnold looked good in six starts for the Panthers in 2022, completing 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,143 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions while posting a 4-2 record. That stint renewed confidence that he could be a solid backup or stopgap, and that was before he spent the last season with quarterback guru Kyle Shanahan.

O’Connell and Shanahan worked together in Washington, so perhaps if Darnold draws good reviews from Shanahan, O’Connell will be inclined to target the 2018 first-round pick as a Geno Smith-type reclamation project.

Joe Flacco

Will anyone take a chance on Joe Flacco after his torrid close to the season in Cleveland? Flacco went 4-1 as a starter and willed the Browns to the playoffs despite being the team’s fourth-string quarterback. He threw for 1,616 yards, 13 touchdowns, and eight interceptions while showing he could still operate an explosive, downfield passing offense.

The Vikings have the weapons needed to support Flacco, so O’Connell could do worse than the 39-year-old, but among their top free-agent options, Flacco is easily the oldest. It wouldn’t surprise anybody to see the Vikings target a free-agent passer with more upside.

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2024 NFL Draft QBs

Speaking of upside, there is plenty of it at quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft. The Vikings have the 11th selection, and they should be in range to land one of the top-six quarterback prospects in this year’s class if they so desire.

Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Drake Maye may be out of reach as potential (if not, likely) top-three picks, but the Vikings should be in striking distance of several other prospects in either the first or second round of the draft.

J.J. McCarthy

McCarthy is a polarizing prospect, but NFL teams like the Michigan quarterback’s upside for the next level. He has all the tools needed to be a successful passer. He threw the ball 60 yards in the air at the NFL Combine, avoided interceptions and turnovers in college, and was a solid game manager for a national championship-winning team.

The concerns? McCarthy wasn’t asked to pass all that much for Michigan, a ground-dominant team. He also doesn’t have the best ball placement on his throws, particularly to the left side of the field. NFL defenses could take advantage of that early in his career.

Still, O’Connell could be enthralled by McCarthy’s tools and be willing to consider him with the 11th overall pick. He would give the team upside and hope at quarterback, even if he isn’t a sure thing.

Bo Nix

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Bo Nix

Nix is another well-regarded draft prospect who may not have the high-end tools of McCarthy but has the experience needed to be a solid NFL passer.

Nix played five college seasons at Auburn and Oregon but broke out with the Ducks the past two seasons. The super senior completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 4,508 yards, 45 touchdowns, and three interceptions in 2024. He showed off very good accuracy and an ability to hit Oregon’s playmakers in stride in the short to intermediate parts of the field.

Nix will need time to develop in a pro-style offense, but he has the traits needed to be a solid NFL starter. O’Connell may be the perfect coach to turn him into a steady contributor at the next level.

Michael Penix Jr.

Penix comes with some injury concerns from his time at Indiana, but the Washington product is a tough-minded gamer. He has the arm talent needed to be a solid starter in the NFL, and he reportedly impressed teams with his interviews and workouts at the 2024 NFL Combine.

Penix has excellent accuracy and ball placement when he’s at his best and has a particular penchant for completing passes downfield. He needs to become more consistent to find success in the NFL while also improving his ability to pass the ball amid pressure, but it’s hard to find a prospect in the 2024 draft class with a better spiral than him.

Penix is a winner and should be able to adapt to the NFL game quickly. He may be best served among these three prospects to utilize Jefferson and Addison to their full potential, so he can’t be ruled out with the 11th pick.

But if Penix slides to the end of Round 1 or early Day 2, don’t be surprised if the Vikings are among the teams that try to trade up for him after his 4,903-yard, 36-touchdown season.

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